Acid and burn violence is a form of premeditated violence usually committed against women and girls. Here it is pertinent to point out that in Pakistan, around 70% of the victims/survivors of acid attacks are females while 20% are children.
The act rarely kills but causes severe physical, psychological and social scarring. This is especially true for countries such as Pakistan where rehabilitation is either extremely expensive or entirely unavailable. This is all the more alarming because while this form of violence does take place in other parts of the world too, South Asia takes the lead in the number of annual acid attacks reported globally.
If we talk specifically about the situation in Pakistan, an estimated 200 attacks take place each year. Geographically, at least 80% of the victims come from Punjab.
That said, an encouraging indicator is the fact that Pakistan has shown historical improvement with regard to acid burn violence in the last few years. According to the database of Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), cases of acid attacks have seen a 50% decrease compared to the baseline year of 2014.
This certainly shows that acid and burn violence, Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and Gender Based Violence (GBV) in general is not a fatality and can be countered with a little political will. Accordingly, this success can perhaps partially be attributed to the fact that the average conviction rates for cases of acid violence have been between 10% to 15% in the last 2 years; this is higher than the average conviction rate in Pakistan (i.e. less than 10%). For the cases for which an FIR was registered and for which prosecution followed, conviction was achieved in 77% of cases, in 2016.
Admittedly, access to justice in cases of acid attack has shown remarkable improvement. However, lack of access to free, long term medical care and rehabilitation/reintegration services remains a huge challenge for the survivors and their families.
Since, an overwhelming number of such cases originate from Punjab, the provincial government must take lead in enacting a comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill to ensure free medical care, protection and rehabilitation services for survivors of burn and acid attacks. Punjab Government must also establish a system to monitor and execute this law.
It is important to realize that the heinous nature of acid crime demands that it should not merely be reduced, rather it should be eradicated altogether.
For this purpose, it is imperative to address delays and dysfunctions in investigation, prosecution and trial. It is also equally important to ensure that survivors are not merely given compensation but also free access to medical care and rehabilitation services. Similarly, acid sale and distribution also needs to be better regulated and monitored.
A model to decrease acid and burn violence in South Asia based on the good practices from Pakistan is currently in process. Once finalized, this will be shared with the SAARC countries in particular and the world in general. Countries such as India and Nepal urgently need it while Bangladesh to a certain extent can learn from it.
At this juncture, the enactment of a comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill in Punjab will further boost regional efforts for the eradication of acid and burn violence and will provide other countries facing this menace with a model to adopt.